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Posted on 01/14 02:16 NEWS | 0

US troops sheltered in Saddam-era bunkers during Iran missile strike

After receiving advance warning of Iran’s missile strike on military bases in Iraq, US troops hunkered down in Saddam-era bunkers – which were sturdier than American shelters at the site, according to a report.

The Islamic republic last week launched a volley of 22 ballistic missiles at two military bases hosting US forces in Iraq in retaliation for the American drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

At the al-Assad base, the Americans received word that several missiles were headed their way, according to a CNN report.

“I held on to my gun and put my head down and I tried to find a happy place, so I started singing to my daughters in my head,” Staff Sgt. Akeem Ferguson told the network. “And I just waited. I hoped that whatever happened, that it was quick.”

Ferguson, who took cover under a vulnerable concrete slab, added: “I was 100 percent ready to die.”

No Americans or Iraqis were hurt in the attack at the base, roughly a third of which is controlled by the US and lacks the surface-to-air weapons to defend against a ballistic missile assault, CNN reported.

The Iranian missiles managed to destroy sensitive US military sites and damaged a special forces compound and two hangars, in addition to the American drone operators’ housing unit, according to the report.

By 11 p.m. Jan. 7, most of the US troops at the base were sent to bunkers, while few others had been flown out, commanders told CNN.

Only essential personnel, such as tower guards and drone pilots, would remain unsheltered to protect against a ground assault that never came the next day after the missiles landed.

The first missiles fell at 1:34 a.m., followed by three more volleys, spaced out by more than 15 minutes each over two hours.

Troops at the site described the suspense, fear and feelings of defenselessness.

“You can defend against (paramilitary forces), but you can’t defend against this,” said Capt. Patrick Livingstone, commander of the US Air Force Security Forces, referring to previous rocket attacks by armed groups.

“Right now, this base is not designed to defend against missiles,” he added.

Most of the troops took shelter in dusty, pyramid-shaped structures built during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

They were unsure whether they’d withstand the barrage, but they came to realize that the bunkers’ decades-old, slanting walls built to deflect Iranian blasts are sturdier than US shelters, which are made to protect against smaller rockets and mortars used by ISIS jihadists, CNN reported.

Ventilation fans line the outer walls of the old bunkers, which feature two spacious living areas with folding beds, mattresses, stretchers and lockers.

Lt. Col. Staci Coleman, one of the US team leaders who ushered troops into a bunker, said she had doubts initially.

“I was sitting in a bunker and I was like man, maybe I made the wrong decision [to come down here],” Coleman told CNN.

“About 10 minutes, after I said that to myself, it went boom boom boom boom boom and I said, ‘Well there’s my answer,’” she continued. “The whole ground shook. It was very loud. You could feel the blast wave in here. We knew they were close.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson was in a crammed, US-made bunker fortified by sandbags.

“There’s a little hole on the side of the shelter and we saw a flash of orange light,” he said. “After that we figured that every time we see a flash it’s just a couple of seconds before it’s going to hit.”

He added: “It was Flash. Boom. Flash. Boom. We didn’t know when it was going to stop. We sat there and waited for it to end.”

When the troops finally emerged, they described feeling a mixture of relief and shell shock.

“It was ‘normalish’ afterwards,” Coleman said. “But we were all looking each other in the eye as if to say, ‘Are you OK?'”

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